“How do you get your students oriented to Harkness? How do you teach these discussion skills to your newest students?” These are questions that colleagues from other schools have asked me over the years when they come to Exeter to learn about Harkness teaching. I think almost every teacher at Exeter must have fielded this question at one time or another. In particular, I have the chance to meet teachers at other schools when they attend the Exeter Humanities Institute, the summer conference hosted by Exeter to share our knowledge about student-centered, discussion-based teaching.
In the fall of 2016 I began a five-year rotation in something called the Bates-Russell Professorship at Exeter, a position in which I teach a half load and spend the other half of my time on a special project. I was asked to focus that work around Harkness and outreach to other schools interested in bringing Harkness to their students.
This fall, I decided to spend some of my Bates-Russell time to really explore these questions above: How do we teach Harkness to new students? How do we “get them oriented?” I began by visiting a series of ninth grade classes from the very first day of school. This blog is what has emerged as a means to process what I have observed and to share those thoughts with anyone out there who is interested in the answer to that question. I imagine along the way this will emerge in an All Thoughts Harkness place. I certainly hope that it is not merely my thoughts, but in true Harkness fashion, becomes a collaboration.
For now, let’s get started with an assortment of thoughts from visiting sixteen ninth grade classes in the first week of school, and two Harkness demonstrations. We’ll see where things go from there.